After 10 long years of not being able to contact one another, the University of Michigan and former Wolverine basketball star Chris Webber now have an opportunity to reconnect. Both parties should take advantage of this chance, which will help the program bridge the gap between its past and present.
For the past decade, Michigan had to disassociate itself from Webber as part of the fallout from the Ed Martin scandal. An NCAA investigation revealed Martin gave $616,000 to Webber, Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock. Make no mistake, those are some serious NCAA infractions.
In addition to the disassociation from Webber and the three others, the Wolverines were hit with crippling scholarship reductions. The program is only now recovering from that portion of the sanctions.
There is no denying Webber had a hand in what set Michigan back all these years. Does this mean Webber owes athletic director Dave Brandon an apology, though? Not exactly.
This case is not as simple as it seems. Martin, who admitted he laundered money from an illegal gambling operation, developed relationships with Detroit basketball players very early in their careers. Some came in contact with Martin as early as middle school. Whether one of the youngsters was a star did not matter.
"The biggest misconception was that Ed only looked out for the players that were the stars," former Michigan standout Jalen Rose said in ESPN Films' Fab Five documentary. "Ed looked out for all of the kids, a couple of us became stars."
Nothing could have kept Martin from meeting up with Webber. As Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! put it, Ed Martin was a "big-time dude" and nothing stopped him from getting the things he wanted.
"In the end you have one extremely savvy adult, armed with cash and gifts, with a clear motivation to use these kids. And then you have the kids, in Webber's case just an eighth-grader, in the cross hairs," Wetzel wrote. "That isn't a fair relationship. That isn't a level playing field...Chris Webber never stood a chance."
What made things even worse for Webber is the fact Michigan never limited Martin's access to the program either. Martin formed a bond with head coach Steve Fisher in the late 1980s. This relationship helped him get anything from tickets to rooms at the team's Final Four hotel in 1992.
Fisher could have done more to prevent some of these improprieties from happening as well. According to Chris Balas of TheWolverine.com, Fisher and the staff did not do enough when it came to policing the players off the floor.
"I'm not going to blame (Webber, Bullock, Traylor and Taylor) either completely. I'm going to blame the coaching staff for the way they acted," Balas said in an interview on The Huge Show. "It's up to your coaches not just to police, but to teach these kids too, and I think they failed in a lot of areas."
Taking all of this into account, Webber and Michigan owe each other an apology. Since both parties are at fault, there is no reason why the two cannot come to a mutual understanding.
Mistakes were made. Apologies will not change anything that has already transpired. The only thing either side can do now is develop a relationship that will benefit the program going forward. Prospects being able to connect with past stars is always a plus when it comes to recruiting.
Once the disassociation ended, Brandon told The Associated Press he is open to sitting down with Webber.
"I wasn't around when all of this happened," he said. "I've never had an opportunity to interact with them to talk about anything and I am hopeful that opportunity will present itself."
At this point in time, Michigan does not need to reconnect with Webber. Head coach John Beilein guided the Wolverines to a Big Ten Conference title and the Final Four over the past two seasons. Recruiting is better than it has been in quite some time with the No. 12 class in the country coming to campus this summer.
Michigan and Webber should make an effort to put the past behind them and move forward. Reunite the entire Fab Five for the first time since 1993. Celebrate Webber's legacy as a Wolverine, which extends far beyond the infamous timeout.
The Detroit native is ranked inside the top 10 in school history for career blocks (No. 2), field-goal percentage (No. 3), rebounding average (No. 6), steals (No. 10) and scoring average (No. 10). All of those records were accumulated in just two seasons. Could you imagine where Webber would rank had he returned with the rest of the Fab Five for the 1993-94 campaign?
Love him, or hate him, Webber is one of the all-time greats to have played at Michigan. It is time for Webber to come back. Hopefully, the university allows him to return in the near future.
Follow me on Twitter: @Zach_Dirlam.
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